Break out your Ben Simmons hand trackers—the NBA is back. We’re counting down the days until the 2018-19 season tips off on October 16 by taking a hard look at the floor and ceiling of every team in the league. This year, each Best Case, Worst Case capsule is also accompanied by The Ringer’s preseason ranking, our staff’s best guess about where that team will finish this season. We look forward to your emotionless, considered responses.
Ringer Preseason Ranking: 13th
Last Season: 47-35
Notable Additions: DeMar DeRozan (trade), world champion Marco Belinelli (free agency)
Vegas Over/Under: 43.5
Team MVP: LaMarcus Aldridge
Best-Case Scenario: The possibility of the best-case scenario coming to fruition is dependent on four things, and let me say right now that the ultimate best case for the Spurs is that they can get to the Finals, and I know that sounds ridiculous but that’s only because it’s ridiculous, but anyway here are the four things:
1. LaMarcus remains LaMarcus. Last season, he did everything you’d want the centerpiece of your team to do. I mean, think on this: He averaged more points per game than his career average, more rebounds per game than his career average, more assists per game than his career average, shot better than his career average, shot better from 3 than his career average, shot better from the free throw line than his career average, and had not only a higher player efficiency rating than his career average, but also had the highest PER of any single season of his career. He was, to be sure, all of the things that Spurs fans were hoping he’d be when he signed with the team two seasons ago, which is to say he was a player who showed up with only one goal: collect skulls. The Spurs won 47 games last season because of LaMarcus. Without him, they’d have been a lottery team.
2. DeMar DeRozan decides everyone has to pay for the sins of the Raptors. He has mentioned in interviews that he’s carrying a not-small amount of fury in his chest because of the way his tenure in Toronto ended. What the Spurs need is for him to show up to the regular season ready to turn that fury into basketball fire. They need for him to be very much on a FUCK YOU frequency, where the only thing he’s concerned about is making sure that whoever it is who’s responsible for cleaning up dead bodies has lots of work these next nine months. Remember the elevator scene in Drive? The Spurs need that from DeMar.
3. Pop remains Pop. He is Gregg Popovich. All he has to do is be Gregg Popovich. (This one seems extremely likely, were I to wager a guess.)
4. Dejounte Murray has to make the leap. There has to be a stretch of games where Dejounte plays with so much force, with so much confidence, with so much skill, with so much deftness, with so much assassination-y violence, that everybody watching it immediately goes, “Well, shit. There it is. It’s happened. He’s made the leap.” We saw it happen with Tony Parker after he learned how to shoot a jumper and became absolutely indispensable. We need to see it with Dejounte. (Short of the Popovich thing, this one really might be the most crucial. There’s just no way to compete with the top-level teams without an all-world point guard right now. Boston has Kyrie Irving, and we already know that Kyrie will snatch up any championship trophy he can get his fingers on. Golden State has Steph Curry, and Steph is obviously a winner and, when he’s fully activated, is one of the most magical players in the league. Houston has CP3, and the Rockets absolutely would’ve won the title last year had his hamstring not betrayed him. And that’s it. That’s the end of the list of teams that are serious threats to win the title this year.)
If all of the above happen in all of the right ways (and ONLY in all of the right ways), then the Spurs can slide their way into the Western Conference finals, where they’d be just one opponent’s tweaked knee or ankle away from sneaking into the Finals.
Worst-Case Scenario: The worst-case scenario is if zero of those four things happen.
LaMarcus, who was rejuvenated last year because he knew for certain that he was The Man on the team, decides he’s not interested in playing alongside another All-NBA player and turns into a stick figure during the most high-stakes moments.
DeMar goes outside to take his trash to the curb at home during a two-day break in games in late November, realizes that it’s still 94 degrees in San Antonio, and immediately books a flight to Canada so he can see snow. Nobody ever hears from him again.
Popovich, one day after an especially tough loss, looks out into the locker room and sees neither Tim Duncan nor Manu Ginobili nor Tony Parker there and decides enough is enough, that he’s shutting it down, that he’s moving to Napa Valley, that he’s given enough of his life to basketball.
And Dejounte Murray, who many in San Antonio are predicting is on a can’t-miss track toward becoming the next great point guard in the NBA, gets a hold of some old Stephon Marbury highlight tapes and decides he wants to get a head tattoo and revamp his game.
If that’s the case, then it’s going to be a long fucking season for the Spurs.
TL:DR: If everything breaks perfectly for the Spurs, they can be a true force. If everything breaks badly for the Spurs, they can be a real stinker. More likely, things will break normally for the Spurs, and they’ll make it to the playoffs and then lose in the second round to either the Warriors or the Rockets.